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Authenticity and occupational emotions

In the last two chapters of this book, I move from theoretical issues relating to emotional authenticity and truth to applying these notions; authenticity in the context of occupational emotions, and truth in a metaethical analysis of sentimental values, that is, values whose properties and concepts depend fundamentally on human sensibilities. In this way, I purport to show that the notions of emotional authenticity and truth have important ramifications beyond the narrow domain of emotion theory.

In the first of these more applied chapters, I seek to elucidate conflicting evidence on the relation between emotional labour and worker authenticity by focusing on the concept of emotional authenticity. I first identify a paradox of emotional authenticity, which emerges from the existence of theories that occlude the possibility of authentic emotion management in professional roles even if such emotions are often experienced as authentic. I suggest that this paradox emerges from Arlie Hochschild's (1983) conceptualizations of authenticity and emotional labour that many researchers of emotional labour still either explicitly or implicitly share. I then invoke the theoretical account of emotional authenticity presented in Chapter 4 in arguing that an understanding of authenticity as a regulative ideal of coherence between a person's various roles and their constitutive commitments allows us to see the possibility of authentic emotion work in a professional role whose constitutive commitments are compatible with the worker's other salient epistemic and normative commitments, provided that emotions are managed in proper working conditions. Finally, I analyze nursing as a profession that can meet these criteria.

The problem of emotional authenticity at work

Emotions at work are haunted by a profound dilemma. On the one hand, in many occupations it is part of professional identity genuinely to feel and display emotions that are appropriate to the occupational role. For instance, flight attendants are supposed to feel cheerful and friendly, funeral directors should appear somber and reserved, and nurses are expected to show empathy and compassion to their patients. These occupation-specific feeling rules may be so important that professionals feel hypocritical if they cannot genuinely feel what they should feel in their professional role. Yet occupational emotions also appear to be inauthentic, since the display and experience of emotion often requires considerable emotional labour, which is associated with experiences of in authenticity and other negative consequences that are mediated, in part, by a sense of in authenticity. As Van Maanen and Kunda (1989) summarized, "Managing one's emotions is crucial to successful role performance, yet such self-control raises questions as to what feelings are one's own and what feelings go with the job" (p. 55). The question then is whether it is possible to have authentic occupational emotions, or whether emotional labour always leads to a loss of authenticity, and what does it mean to have an 'authentic emotion' in the first place?

Empirical evidence on the affective consequences of emotional labour is twofold. On the one hand, Arlie Hochschild in her pioneering study, The Managed Heart (1983; reprinted 2003), claimed that emotional labour in its both forms of surface acting and deep acting in a corporate context leads to fragmentation of the worker's self. Surface acting of emotional expressions produces emotional dissonance - incongruence between felt and organizationally required emotion - which impairs one's sense of 'true' self. Deep acting, evoking or suppressing of actual emotions through exhortation or trained imagination, in turn, distorts one's spontaneous emotions and thereby engenders alienation from one's 'real' or authentic self. Other negative effects of emotional labour are mediated, in part, by the experience of emotional dissonance or by the sense of in authenticity, often defined interchangeably. These effects include emotional exhaustion and job dissatisfaction (Hochschild, 2003; Morris & Feldman, 1996; Abraham, 1998; Pugliesi, 1999; Grandey, 2000; Zapf, 2002), stress and distress (Hochschild, 1983; Pugliesi, 1999; Grandey, 2000), depression (Erickson & Wharton, 1997), drug and alcohol abuse, absenteeism and turnovers (Hochschild, 1983; Abraham, 1998), burnout (Wharton, 1993; Erickson & Ritter, 2001; Zapf, 2002), and other health problems (Grandey, 2000; Zapf, 2002; Bolton & Boyd, 2003).

Yet on the other hand, there is evidence that emotion management at work may facilitate job satisfaction, feelings of personal accomplishment, self-efficacy and self-expression (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993; Tolich, 1993; Wharton, 1993; Erickson & Wharton, 1997; Ashforth & Tomiuk, 2000; Zapf, 2002), and even a sense of authenticity (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993; Ashforth & Tomiuk, 2000). A common factor behind many of these positive consequences of emotional labour is identification with one's work role. Thus, Ashforth and Humphrey (1993, p. 98) argue that "individuals who regard their [work] roles as a central, salient, and valued component of who they are apt to feel most authentic when they are conforming to role expectations, including display rules". This suggests that it is not emotional labour itself but emotional dissonance that is responsible for the negative consequences associated with emotional labour. Identification with the work role is a double-edged sword, because it may exacerbate the psychological impact of job stressors and performance failures. Yet if everything goes well, identification can function as a source of emotional well-being, providing a sense of belonging, empowerment, and meaningfulness.

Poignant questions about emotional authenticity emerge from these seemingly conflicting findings. If emotional labour engenders experiences of inauthenticity as if by default, how can it also associate with quite opposite feelings of authenticity and being true to oneself? Here we face the paradox of emotional authenticity that constitutes the focus of this chapter Ashforth and Tomiuk have attempted to solve this paradox by distinguishing between surface authenticity and deep authenticity. Surface authenticity refers to congruence between actual experience and expression of emotion, whereas in deep authenticity, expression of emotion is consistent with the display rules of a role that one has internalized as a reflection of the self, regardless of whether the expression reflects one's present feelings. However, the concept of deep authenticity merely redescribes the paradox, for we can plausibly ask, how is it possible to feel authentic while managing emotions in an occupational role, provided that existing theories identify emotional labour, in part, in terms of experiences of emotional dissonance and inauthenticity. I believe that we can make headway in solving the paradox by looking at how the notion of emotional authenticity has been understood in recent research.

 
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